Don’t make the mistake of just trying to move your arms faster when trying to swim faster. Swimming is a very technical sport and there is a lot of skill involved in swimming each stroke fast. The swimwear you wear plays a very small part in how fast you swim, all of the hard work is your technique
Why do you want to swim faster?
It’s important to first understand why you want to swim faster. Are you entering a swimming race? If so is it a short distance race in a swimming pool or is it a longer distance race in open water or as part of a triathlon. Or is there a specific swimming stroke you want to swim faster? For example do you want to try and swim butterfly or backstroke? We’ll cover all of the above in our guide.
Swimming faster for triathlons
Triathlons always require an element of open water swimming. Swimming is also the part that people fear the most if they are not strong swimmers. Swimming faster in triathlons requires endurance and an efficient stroke.
Here are our 3 tips for swimming faster triathlons:
#1 Don’t use your legs too much
If you have watched any professional open water swimmers on tv, you may notice that they don’t actually kick their legs very much when they are swimming front crawl. Where as if you watch sprinters there is a huge splash coming from their feet as they are kicking as hard as they can.
Logic dictates that this is simply because they are trying to swim faster (which is true), but when swimming front crawl your legs don’t provide as much forward propulsion as your arms, but they use way more oxygen because they are some of the biggest muscles in the body.
When swimming in triathlons try to use your legs just to balance your stroke out and balance well in the water.
#2 Pace yourself
Ok, it may seem obvious but you would be amazed how many people let the adrenaline go to the head and when they dive in they sprint away and start using up valuable energy.
Pacing in swimming is vital. Some professional swimmers actually negative split their swimming races. Negative splitting is when you swim the second half of a race faster than you swam the first half, this is kind of the holy grail.
You will also see most professional swimmers saving energy for a sprint finish. This is not so important in a triathlon because swimming is just the first part of a 3 part race, but obviously you need to preserve energy for the running and cycling.
A good way to pace yourself is have so sort of mental metronome that can help you sink into a comfortable pace, this could be something simple as counting up to 10 and resetting every time you take a stroke.
#3 Drafting the swimmer in front of you
Drafting in swimming is basically the same as cycling when you are directly behind someone and you benefit from not being in the turbulent air. In swimming it is way more important. Water is more resistant than air. When in an open water swimming race like a triathlon, you should always try and swim in behind someone so they are the ones doing the work.
The balance you need to figure out is sometimes being in the pack of swimmers can be more disruptive than helpful. But going out on your own means you are still in rough water and then other people will draft in behind you.
It’s more of a personal decision, some people like having clean water in front of them and don’t mind if people try to stick on their toes.
Swimming faster front crawl
I have written another article specifically talking more in depth about how to swim faster front crawl. But here are 3 quick tips to follow, or maybe a different way to put it, here are 3 bad habits you should stop doing that will help you swim faster front crawl.
#1 Stretch your arms further out in front of you
If you can imagine you are trying to pull as much water behind you as possible. Then why are you not trying to stretch out in front of you to pull as much water behind you as possible.
Every time you do a front crawl stroke instead of just pulling straight back when your hand enters the water, get into the habit of pushing the hand out underwater in front you and then pulling.
#2 High Elbows
To be able to get the most efficient pulling angle when swimming you should try and keep a high elbow all the way through your front crawl stroke.
For a start if you are swimming front crawl when you bring you arm over the water you should have a bend in the elbow with your fingers pointing down so that you are in as straight a line as possible. If you don’t bend your elbows at this point of the stroke you will end up swinging your arm around from the side which ends up making you zig zag, it’s really inefficient and slow.
You should also keep a high elbow once your arm enters the water to give you the best leverage possible when you need to push the water behind you, just like if you are wanting to pull yourself out the side of the swimming pool, trying to do that with straight arms is almost impossible.
#3 Don’t squeeze your fingers together
Years ago when coaches were teaching people how to swim they would tell you to squeeze your fingers together so that no water goes through them and you catch as much water as possible which seems like the right thing to do.
In fact you should have small gaps between your fingers to increase the surface area when you are pulling your hand through the water. The extra surface area you gain by slightly spreading your fingers has more of a beneficial effect than the negative effect of water seeping through your fingers.
How to swim faster butterfly
Butterfly is often seen as the most difficult stroke to swim, mainly because it requires a lot of effort to lift your head above water to breath. If you are looking to improve your butterfly swimming then here are 3 tips to help. There is also a useful video here on how to swim faster butterfly.
#1 Breath close to the water
Don’t try to lift your head all the way out of the water, you only need to lift your head high enough to breath in the area just above the surface of the water. If you try to lift your head too far out of the water it will create a lot of drag and resistance.
Keeping you head lower to the surface of the water when you breath means you have a more streamlined body position and your legs don’t sink so much.
#2 Don’t go too deep with your kicks
Butterfly is often seen as a bit of an up and down stroke, because you come out of the water to breathe and then dive back down underneath the surface as your arms stretch out in front of your head.
Try to keep a fairly flat stroke and keep your butterfly kicks shallow so they are not too deep. If you watch a video of Micheal Phelps swimming butterfly you will see that his butterfly kicks are very shallow and fast.
Kicking in butterfly, unlike front crawl is where you get your rhythm from. If you have a deep leg kick it makes your arms really slow, because your leg kicking gives you propulsion to lift your head. So fast shallowing kicking is key to swimming fast a length of butterfly.
#3 Bent arms underwater
Don’t straighten your arms underwater. If you have straight arms underwater you can hold more water but it puts lots of strain on your shoulders and can cause lots of shoulder injuries. Having a bent arms when swimming butterfly means your finger-tips should almost meet each other under your body when you're swimming.
Having bent arms also keeps your body much more shallow in the water so it reduces the amount of drag that your body has when you are swimming.
How to swim faster breaststroke
Breaststroke is the slowest of the 4 main swimming strokes. It’s often favoured by less confident swimmers because you can swim it with your head above the water the whole time. It catches some people by surprise how fast some people can swim breaststroke. The fastest breaststroke swimmer to ever live is Adam Peaty. He can swim 100m in 56 seconds. 56 Seconds is faster than a lot of club level competitive swimmers can swim front crawl - which is the fastest stroke.
#1 Turn your arms over faster
Now breaststroke is one of those strokes where turning over your arms a bit faster can have a massive difference. It feels unnatural to swim breaststroke this way sometimes because it is seen as a slow relaxing stroke. You will be surprised how much faster you can with breaststroke just by turning over your arms a bit faster.
#2 Narrow your leg kick
Narrowing your leg kick means not kicking outwards so much, you should be aiming to kick the water behind you. Breast stroke may be the slowest stroke but it relies a lot more on your legs than most of the other strokes, so having a strong narrow leg kick is really important.
Narrowing your leg kick means you have less drag as your body isn’t as wide. It also means you pushing water behind you more rather than pushing it inwards.
#3 Make your ankles more flexible
Having flexible ankles is really key for learning how to swim faster breaststroke. If your ankles aren’t flexible you can’t streamline and push the water behind you so much. Professional swimmers will do lots of stretching exercises, but breaststrokers will especially be doing stretching exercises to help increase the flexibility of their ankles.
Flexible ankles are actually really important for swimming in general and its something every competitive swimmer should be working towards.
How to swim faster backstroke
Backstroke is usually the 3rd fastest swimming stroke after front crawl and butterfly. It’s not the most popular, especially in public swimming because people can’t see where they are going. A nice thing about it though is that you can breathe the whole time. It is often seen as a relaxing, or cool down stroke for swimmers, here are 3 tips for swimming faster backstroke.
#1 Roll your shoulders more
When you roll your shoulders you make your body thinner because its more on it’s side, this means you have less drag and your are more streamlined in the water. Rolling your shoulders also means you get a deeper catch of the water meaning you have more water to pull.
All good backstroke swimmers will do some form of deliberate practice to improve the roll in their shoulders. It’s kind of similar to rolling your shoulders in front crawl but even more prominent.
#2 Little finger first on hand entry
You should try when placing your hand into the water behind your head, enter your hand in the water with your little finger first. This is because when your hand enters the water you want to catch as much water as you can with your hand.
If your hand goes in with your thumb first, or more likely with the back of the hand it means you can’t get any grip on the water. So you hand is basically useless and you are not getting a grip of anything.
#3 Keep your head back
A common mistake a lot of people make when swimming backstroke, is that your lift their head so they can see their toes. The problem with this is that it sinks your legs and causes lots of drag and you will lose your streamline again. It can also make your neck ache a lot because its like lying in bed and trying to keep your head off the bed the whole time.
People don’t like to have their heads completely back because they can’t see as well. But you need to get used to counting your strokes from the backstroke flags so you get more confident with it.
Hopefully this guide has given you some useful pointers on how to swim faster. I would recommend watching some YouTube videos on swimming drills you can practice. Remember technique is speed, you can swing your arms around as much as you like but if your technique is bad you will be going nowhere fast.